David Ortiz always lights up the room. You never know which retro jersey from which sport he'll be wearing, and once he arrives you know the laughing and joking will soon begin. The man is a superb locker room presence.
To which Terry Francona says, "Yada-yada-yada."
"As good a guy as he is," the skipper said, "I'll take those 140 RBIs. That's what makes him so lovable."
We need look no further than People's Exhibit A, his at-bat in the 10th inning of yesterday afternoon/last night's Game 3 against the Anaheim Angels. All he needed to see was one pitch from lefthander Jarrod Washburn. Ortiz knocked the ball over the Wall to make the Red Sox 8-6 winners and provide his team with a series sweep. Ortiz has had many big hits during his two years wearing a Red Sox uniform. Would he care to rate this one?
"I guess it's one of the big ones," he decided.
David, you can stop guessing. This was the biggest.
That Ortiz was facing Washburn in that situation was the subject of much postgame discussion. For Washburn, the Game 1 starter and loser, was replacing the fearsome Francisco Rodriguez, a.k.a. "K-Rod." The young righthander with the filthy-nasty-electric-outrageous stuff had entered the game in the eighth and had pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out three. He departed with pinch runner Pokey Reese on first and two away. You'd have to think he had a few more pitches left in that golden arm. But these are the agonizing decisions that often decide managerial fates, and Angels skipper Mike Scioscia arrived at the conclusion that a change was in order, given that he had a lefty up and ready to go, and all.
"Frankie had really stretched himself to the limit," Scioscia explained. "He was really on the verge. Did he have 3-4-5 pitches left in him? We'll never know."
In the other dugout, Francona was in a far different mind-set, one that was not at all technical or analytical.
"I wasn't sitting there thinking," he said. "I was begging. I looked at Kevin Millar and said, `Can he hit one here?' No sooner were the words out of my mouth than it left the bat. The players seemed to know before me that it was going out. There was a lot of begging going on."
Ortiz has answered many a managerial prayer during these past two years. With almost every passing day, it seems more and more amazing that he is even here. The man was neither traded for nor purchased. The man had been released, as in let go, by the Minnesota Twins. Whatever money issues there may have been, could he not have fetched something in a deal?
He was an MVP candidate last year, and he will finish in the top four this year, without question. It's not just the Ortiz numbers, which are dazzling. It's the fact that he gives you intelligent, professional at-bats in big situations and that he is not intimidated, confused, or overwhelmed by top-flight pitchers, and that he is certainly not fazed by lefties. His numbers aren't as good against them, but he can hurt them, as Washburn found out last night.
"The people watch and think about what you hit for average against lefties, but they don't see what kind of lefties we have in the American League," said Ortiz. "They don't see how they pitch you. They don't see what kind of situation that I face. I don't think about lefties. When I see a lefty, if I hit it, I hit it. I get 400 at-bats a year against righties and 100 against lefties. Why should I worry about lefties?"
Ortiz doesn't seem to worry about a whole lot, frankly. He always knew he could hit and he always believed that if he could ever stay healthy long enough to get 500-plus at-bats he would put up some big numbers. Well, guess what? Starting at the end of May in 2003 he was put in the lineup every day, and ever since he has put up big numbers. He is an extra-base machine, and he has become one of the ultra-elite players that rivals most definitely do not wish to face with the game in question.
All playoffs games are big games, of course, but some are bigger than others, and this one had morphed into a monster. Boston had lost a 6-1 lead and if it had dropped this game the locals would have gotten very restless. It wouldn't have been Ortiz's fault, since he had two doubles, a single, a run scored, and an RBI as he came up to face Washburn. That's a big game, right there.
Ortiz wasn't all that surprised to see Washburn trotting in. "I guess Mike [Scioscia] went through the book and said, like, `OK, I have a lefty ready in the bullpen and I have a lefthanded hitter coming to the plate,' " Ortiz said. "You don't want to have a lefty ready in the bullpen and then leave K-Rod out there. And what if I hit a home run off K-Rod? He pitched two innings-plus, right?"
The big man said he was not necessarily trying to end the game with one of his trademark, ferocious swings.
"I wasn't thinking about hitting a home run," Ortiz said. "I want to have a good at-bat. I want to at least get on base. You pull up and try to hit the ball to right field and that's when you get in trouble."
Washburn tried to slip a slider by Ortiz. Bad idea. He gave it his Fenway shoot-it-to-left swing, and it was evident when the ball was about halfway out there that it was at least going to be high off the Wall, and therefore good enough to score the speedy Reese from first. But the ball just kept on going and landed in the Monster seats, touching off a textbook "We-just-did-something-great celebration" on the part of both the team and the fans.
Way back in the eighth inning, Ortiz was standing on first base with two outs in a tie game. The manager could have run for him. "It's easy to say now, because of what he did," said Francona, "but that's why we don't take him out."
How could you? He's way too lovable.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.